I Can't Get You Outta My Head - Is Good Sex All Mental?

Studies have shown that men get more aroused visually, whereas women get more sexually aroused depending on the context in which the sex takes place. Of course, individuals have their preferences, and some studies that show overarching themes in the arousal of men and women most studied heterosexual, cis-gendered people. 

However, we can glean pertinent information from these studies and perhaps take away some good tips to enrich our sexual lives. Read on, and we will answer the question, "Is good sex in your mind?"

What Is Mental Arousal?

Arousal is the combined physical and mental response to an erotic stimulus. 

Usually, physical arousal is signified by blood pulsing to the genitals, the nipples hardening, and even the pupils dilating. The result of all these physical responses is what we know as feeling "turned on" or "horny" and an increased sexual drive.

What is Mental Arousal

Arousal is not just a physical phenomenon; the term "mental arousal" refers to psychological factors that also play a considerable role in arousal. Some examples of such factors are:

  • The relationship you have with your partner

  • How you feel about your body

  • Your general mental state

  • The relationship you have to sexuality

Sometimes, someone can be mentally aroused but not physically aroused or vice versa. It's just important to understand that arousal is a holistic process. Many people think of sex as just a physical act, but it goes deeper than that. 

Differences in Men's and Women's Arousal 

In the past couple of years, communities that once existed on the fringes of society, like the LGBTQ+ community, have generally gained more visibility. Additionally, new identities have emerged that throw out traditional gender assignments altogether. 

The diversification of identities in the modern world has vastly complicated the study of sexuality and our understanding of sexuality studies from the past. With this in mind, it's much trickier to say that men and women each have certain specific sexual traits. 

Arousal Sex

However, a 2003 study from UCLA did find some themes among men's and women's relationships to sex and sexuality. Researchers found four critical sexual differences between cis-gendered women (heterosexual and gay) and cis-gendered men (heterosexual and gay): 

  • In general, men are more interested in sex than women are and feel sexual desire more frequently and consistently.

  • Women emphasize deep connections and committed relationships over physical pleasure, whereas men do the opposite.

  • Men are generally more sexually assertive than women are, sometimes to the point of aggression.

  • Women's sexuality over time is more flexible than men's in terms of identity, attitudes, and behaviors. 

The research shows that cis-gendered women's arousal is overwhelmingly linked to intimacy. Women fantasize more about affection from someone they know than they do about physically focused sex with strangers. On the other hand, men fantasize more about anonymous partners and specific physical acts. 

The study also mentions that women have a great deal of sexual variance throughout their lives. Their arousal and beliefs around sex can change based on their environment, age, and shifts in culture. Additionally, women are more likely to change their sexual orientation as they get older. 

The study also notes some loopholes in how scientists have studied female sexuality—pointing to the fact that many studies don't consider factors like women's menstrual cycle. It may cause a woman's hormones to shift dramatically and affect her libido at different phases of her cycle. It means that women aren't necessarily less interested in sex, but the studies have been skewed toward male standards.

While scientists work to devise better research methods on sexuality, the data from studies past is not devoid of truth. However, it is essential to take this information with a grain of salt and understand that each individual is different. 

Why Are Men More Aroused Visually?

A 2004 study conducted by Emory University showed that certain parts of cis-gendered men's brains were more stimulated than women's when each was shown the same erotic images, even when the women in the study reported feeling more aroused by the photos.

mental arousal sex

It can be said men have a more visceral neural reaction to sexual stimuli than women. Why? It appears to be a brain chemistry phenomenon that some scientists say could have evolved so men could react quickly to stimuli and increase their mating opportunities.

What Do Women Need to Get Sexually Aroused?

There is no miracle formula for arousal, but introducing mindfulness into the bedroom and your relationship can help.

Mindfulness is about relaxing into the present moment and focusing on the senses.

Women might try relaxing into arousal alone before going for it with a partner. It's hard to feel sexy with a partner when you don't think you are sexy. Mindfulness can help you relax into truly embodying your sexiness. 

Emily Nagoski, Ph.D., recommends standing in front of the mirror every day. After spending some time looking at yourself, write down all the things you see that you like. Over time, you might notice more and more things you want about your body and become more comfortable with yourself. It can help you feel sexier, and the things you like about yourself will quickly multiply. Feeling and seeing how you are sexy on your own is in itself sexy. Not only will you be more comfortable receiving your partner, but your increased comfort and confidence will make your partner want you more as well. 

What Do Men Need to Get Sexually Aroused?

Like women, men can have various experiences with and relationships to arousal. As we've seen, men tend to respond to visual stimuli, so maybe try incorporating imagery into your sexual adventures.

Try exploring erotic images or videos with a man to arouse him. A sexy costume, a teasing dance, or a role-play that doesn't involve touching can be great ways to stimulate someone visually. 

What Can I Do to Arouse A Woman?

arousal a woman

There is no canned answer to this question. What could arouse one person mentally might turn off someone else. The key to arousal is personal, especially for women. As we noted previously, women get more produced by the context of sex than men. 

Connecting to the lady in your life in a nonsexual way may unlock a whole new side to the sex you have together. It could create a context where she feels more invested and comfortable. Or maybe you have a more casual connection and just figuring out what she wants sexually is enough.

What Can I Do to Arouse a Man?

Since men can be more visual and more open to casual or physically focused sex, try prolonging your foreplay and making the foreplay itself more visually charged. Maybe you want to watch a porn video with your partner, or you could make him watch you arouse yourself, you can try different luxury sex toys, another great way to experiment. The tension of just looking and not touching drives most men crazy!

arousal a men

However, as noted for women, men also have mental arousal triggers. Understanding the men in your life and what makes them tick sexually or otherwise can affect your ability to connect with them holistically.

Win That Mind Game

Is good sex mental? Yes, but cultivating a sexual life where you consider every one of your partners a visual, emotional, physical, and sensual individual might lead to the best sex of all.

Whatever gender your partner is, the best sex is sex that feels open and fun. Going into it with preconceptions based on gender that you might have absorbed from the media might detract from a genuinely open-ended experience. Consider all of your partners to be their psycho-sexual islands, and you can't go wrong.


Being turned on and emotions. (October 2014). Tufts University.

This Is the Key to Unlocking Your Best Sex YetSolo or Partnered. (August 2020). Healthline.

Human Sexuality: How Do Men and Women Differ? (2017). Current Directions in Psychological Science.

Men and women differ in amygdala response to visual sexual stimuli. (April 2004). Emory University.

Study Finds Male And Female Brains Respond Differently To Visual Stimuli. (March 2004). Science Daily.

These women say great sex boils down to these 5 things. (February 2019). Better by Today.

All About the Male Sex Drive. (October 2019). Healthline.  

How to Man Sex Tips Wome Women

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